I had a little run-in with an Australian Cattle Dog this morning. He had a great time chasing me down the block, pretending I was a steer that needed rounding up. I can’t begrudge the little guy; he was only doing what comes natural. Of course, it would have been better for him and I if his owner had kept in in the yard where he belonged. (In defense, I’ve been riding that route everyday for two years and I’ve never seen him before, so I suspect he’d gotten loose without his guardian’s knowledge.)
To get him off my heels, I used the old “issue a command” technique. It was actually quite funny. When he was close enough to hear me loud-and-clear, I looked back directly into his eyes, and in a firm voice, issued a “sit” command. You’ve never seen a dog shift gears from predator to confused puppy so fast. In that split second I went from being prey to being something that approximated his Boss. He immediately peeled off, walking back to his yard looking dejected and confused.
In all my years of riding all over the countryside, I’ve never had to resort to physical violence to convince a dog to leave me alone. A majority of the time all that was required was continuing to ride a straight line at my existing pace. Most dogs are just responding to their prey instincts and when it becomes obvious that a bicyclist is not prey, they give up the chase.
Following are a few of the techniques I use in my close encounters of the dog kind. I employ these in ascending order based upon the situation:
- In the case of a small dog I’m sure I can outrun, I accelerate out of reach.
- In the case of medium to large dogs that I can’t outrun, I keep riding my same pace and hold a straight line. Most dogs just give up after a few seconds.
- In the case of a persistent dog like my friend this morning, I wait until he gets close enough to hear me clearly and I issue a “sit” command. This works about 95% of the time.
- If a dog is unresponsive to the “sit” command and comes directly along side, I squirt him with water from my water bottle. This often works well to defuse the situation.
- If a dog gets into a dangerous position that may cause an accident, I stop and place the bike between me and the dog. Typically, once I stop, the dog backs off. In the rare case where the dog continues to be aggressive, a squirt from the water bottle usually sends him packing.
- As a last resort measure, I carry pepper spray in my bike bag. In over 40 years of riding bikes in the city, the suburbs, the forest, and on country roads with free-roaming dogs, I’ve never had to resort to using it.
Certainly, encounters with loose dogs can be scary, and even in rare cases, dangerous, but having a plan and a few tricks up your sleeve can go a long way to diffusing an encounter long before it turns into something serious.
[Note: Please don’t submit comments describing or recommending violence against dogs; they won’t be published. —.ed]